Memories will follow me everywhere.
I’m comforted knowing Riley had an amazing life, and he made mine infinitely better. My life will always be better for his place in it. We were explorers together, and his adventurous spirit, playfulness and unique personality filled my life with meaning, balance and love.
He was always a puppy. Nearly eight years of a well-lived life, he was a puppy to the end. Entertaining, friendly, intelligent. But always playful.
The final days, thought out in some fashion so long ago, were kind to us. It gave two runners – a furry friend and his owner – a chance to cherish the bond forged over miles, cheeseburgers and lake time. Those old memories and an opportunity to provide a dignified, peaceful ending to an amazing life will warm my heart.
Over the past few months, as the reality settled in, I’ve shed many tears. But I’m also grateful the waning days for my charming golden retriever allowed him to enjoy a bit of what made his life special.
A special visit from our running pal gave his tail a chance to wag wildly again.
My brother, who dubbed Riley as the Red Dragon, visited and again brought back that instant explosion of energy that Riley was so trademark for. Once something excited him, Riley would scramble to his feet and burst with life.
We made a drive to Lake Melissa to visit his dog-sitting parents, who were gracious to allow us to make arrangements without much notice so he could spend a little bit of time in the lake. He also spend a night at my brother’s house, where Riley lived nearly 6 years. If there’s a place he would call home, it is there.
The news Monday brought the tremendous cost – emotionally, mentally and physically and financially – to fight cancer. Normally, Riley didn’t like being out in the rain. But that evening we went for a walk around the block in a light shower and he didn’t put up a fuss. He accompanied me to work during a late night trip.
And then there was Tuesday, Aug. 27. A day of sadness and joy.
We awoke early and went for a walk. Like many nights recently, I slept on the floor next to him, just in case. Our walk drained him of some energy, and Riley moved more slowly than before, but it was only fitting that we took a new route. He was an explorer. We shared an adventurous bond. This last walk, short but sweet, was a matter of principle. Finish the way we started together.
At home, Riley laid down on the dewey grass, the early morning light beginning to lift above the trees.
As I had so many times, I watched him as he surveyed the surroundings. And I wondered what was going through his mind.
On this last day, my hope was that he enjoyed this life, every step of the journey.
Hours after that final morning, I drove Riley to Dairy Queen. I ordered a cheeseburger meal and a caramel sundae. Slowly, I tore the cheeseburger into bite-sized pieces, and fed it to him. And then the ice cream. Just like our trips during summers to Leech Lake, where we ran and swam and played together on the weekends. A few minutes later we made a stop at the veterinarian’s office, where Riley would peacefully go to sleep for the final time.
Stung by the sadness of a beloved pet gone too early, there is a void and emptiness. Buoyed by the joy of an amazing life, lived to the fullest, I’m strengthened by the thoughts we shared a bond, forged forever, without regrets or reservations.
To me, Riley will always be a puppy.